Thursday, January 11, 2018 Voices of Family Promise
A New Year’s Message for 2018 from Family Promise CEO Claas Ehlers
Wishing you a joyful, healthy, and successful 2018. I wanted to share some thoughts about 2017 and our excitement for the upcoming year.
One landmark that escaped much notice last year was the 30th anniversary of the McKinney-Vento Act. This is probably the most significant piece of legislation directly regarding homelessness that we as a nation have ever produced. It should be noted, it was passed by a Democratic congress and a Republican president, touted by both as an important step toward addressing the crisis of homelessness.
As the McKinney-Vento Act passed in July of 1987, the second and third IHN programs started operating in Essex and Morris Counties, New Jersey. Interest spread to other states. Karen Olson, our founder and one of the true national heroes of the fight against homelessness, filed papers to incorporate a separate entity, and the next year, what is now Family Promise was birthed. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Family Promise as a national organization, as a national movement.
While the turn of the year is marked by reviews and looks ahead, I want to touch on larger issues as well: the place of Family Promise in the continued fight against family homelessness and our holistic and sustaining work to empower the people we serve and mobilize our communities.
The overarching theme for the past few years for Family Promise has been to increase our ability to not just serve, but transform. We have provided Affiliates with more resources, more tools, and more opportunities to help families gain independence and importantly, opportunity. All of our efforts—new programs, corporate partnerships, strategic alliances, educational projects, staffing alignment—have been with that goal: helping Affiliates create meaningful and lasting change.
We believe that we have been successful. The previous year, we served by far the most families we ever had. We have seen increases in the involvement of new volunteer groups, reached the milestone of 1,500 community initiatives developed by Affiliates, reduced barriers to service, and engaged Affiliates in our efforts on policy.
That was all possible because of the incredible work that every Affiliate does. We are tremendously thankful for the staff of Affiliates, who are the most selfless, passionate, and skilled group of people one could ever meet. We are thankful for the boards of Affiliates, volunteers who dedicate time, treasure, and talent to change the future for children in their communities. We are thankful for the volunteers–180,000 strong–especially the coordinators and congregational leaders who make Family Promise possible.
At the heart of Family Promise are people of unspeakable courage, grit, and promise: the families who come to us for help when their night is at its darkest. The light they give as they leave us is an inspiration. Of special note is the Guest Advisory Council, a group of people whose guidance has been essential this past year.
Finally, I personally must point to the staff here at Family Promise National, superheroes whose powers include helping Affiliates solve problems, getting partners to engage, sharing the word to the world, and bringing in resources to make it all possible. Standing shoulder to shoulder with these amazing folks is our national board, people who are changing our world for the better.
All of you helped us accomplish much in 2017, including:
- The HUMI partnership, which will bring $200,000 toward prevention and stabilization to Affiliates.
- The Partners in Housing program, giving families not just housing but an asset and pathway to true stability. (The initial grant of $45,000 has just been augmented by an additional $225,000 directly to Affiliates to expand the program in select areas.)
- Our National Conference, which saw a vast array of national leaders engaging with Family Promise and Affiliates.
- Partnerships and alliances: HomeAid, Encore, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Prosperity Now, Schoolhouse Connection, Habitat for Humanity, Interfaith Youth Core, Food Donation Connection, Grant Station, Kiwanis Foundation, and more.
- The Pets with a Promise program, giving Affiliates $120,000 in grants to keep families together.
What to expect for 2018? We will continue to develop new programs to expand Affiliate impact. We plan to bring in more partners. On the corporate side, they will give Affiliates volunteers, skills, services, and funding. On the nonprofit side, they help us expand our holistic approach, addressing a variety of niches within our work, so that we can meet more families’ needs.
I touched on many of these at the national conference, but these new iniatives include:
- An expansion of our partnership with Woodforest National Bank that includes digitization of New Beginnings, further development of financial capability support for families, and launching micro-enterprise efforts.
- In partnership with the National Association of Realtors, the creation of a digital good tenancy curriculum that provides training for families, makes them more attractive to landlords, and draws realtors into our Affiliates as skilled volunteers
- Partnering with the Bassuk Center to provide resources for clinical excellence, giving Affiliates additional support in trauma informed care, mental illness, and substance abuse.
- Building off our relationship with HUD, spurred by engagement with Dr. Carson at the conference, we have been asked for recommendations on how to modify CoC requirements so Affiliates serve families without undue penalty for our model. We will further the incredible accomplishments of the Government Relations Committee, which echoed the hallmarks of McKinney-Vento by convincing several senators and representatives (of both parties) to sponsor the HCYA. As well, we continue to work with Senator Booker and other leaders in the efforts to curb tenant blacklisting.
- Launching the “What Does Home Mean?” campaign, to raise awareness of the issue of family homelessness nationally.
- And many other programs, initiatives, and partnerships to help Affiliates empower families.
In the upcoming year, we will be finalizing our strategic plan, focusing our goals, and identifying next steps. Of particular importance as we add more partnerships that bring resources (volunteers, products, services, funding, awareness) to Affiliates is our ability to provide deeper metrics. In order to tell our story, we need data. You will be asked not just for our annual census (please complete that as quickly as possible) but a number of select surveys. Also we will want to tell our story consistently and powerfully, so we will be providing more resources to do so, as well as more expectations on how to do that with coordination and coherence.
We are in the process of adding a new role to our national team: a C-level position to oversee Affiliate Services to support Affiliates, identify needs, promote excellence, and create opportunities to expand Affiliate impact through prevention and stabilization programs.
It has been 30 years since Family Promise became a national program. It has been that, plus a year, since McKinney-Vento passed. Despite many successes, unfortunately, neither have ended family homelessness yet. But both remain essential to the fight, and we see this upcoming year as the opportunity to put the issues of children and their families and housing squarely into the public eye. And to put our Affiliates and the national organization at the forefront of how we can solve it.
We look forward to 2018. Last year, you changed so many lives. This year, we will continue to work as hard as we can so you can change even more.
All the very best,